Puss: My first time with LSD
Warning: This review contains footage of flashing lights and extremely stark colors. Reader discretion is advised.
Puss (or stylized as PUSS!) is one of the trickiest games I have had to talk about. On one hand, I hate the audiovisual design as it always leaves me with a headache. But there is nothing particularly wrong with the game design, and yet it is often boring and repetitive. I do not like Puss as a whole; I find the experience very unpleasant due to the visuals. However, I can respect the game for what it is and what market it caters to. Puss is a very strange game that delivers an experience that I will never forget. But I have to stress that this is not a game for me. That being said, let’s move on.
One night a cat is sucked into a TV, it finds itself riding solo in the code, exploring surreal and mind-meltingly dreamlike worlds. After defeating a stock image of a Chihuahua (demonized with color and scary expressions). The cat is then informed that only it can stop the spreading corruption throughout the dimensions. Puss (from what I have seen) is pretty light on story, and it is not a problem as it doesn't need one. Motivation is the sole reason for the story to exist and there is nothing wrong with it. I do wish there might have been a little bit of meaning behind the imagery, it tends to either just weird for the sake of being weird or moderately spooky. The imagery is good but lacking in substance.
Puss is an avoid them up bullet hell split into two different modes. The levels before the boss are very simple maze levels; you drag the cat to the exit. Simple and easy to grasp, it is not the controls themselves that provide the challenge but rather the levels themselves (more on that later). The boss fights (at least the one that I have played) were similar to those of Undertale (if messier) but lacking the gameplay finesse of the latter.
Guide the cat to its destination
The main hurdle that needs to be overcome is the levels themselves. You cannot touch the walls or empty spaces as you will die if you do. Puss might as well be considered a spiritual successor to the Scary Maze Game in this regard. Just replace the spooky jpg jump scare with static, and you have the same game. Unlike the Scary Maze Game, Puss offers the additional challenge of changing level layouts and obstacles. Puss demands you to observe patterns to progress. I like this as it adds a challenge to what is otherwise a pretty basic gameplay loop.
Puss is a deceptively difficult game when you have the art style that it has, plus all the projectiles on the screens. It can be a matter of finding the correct pixel of a safe space. However, the deceptiveness is rather short-lived, as once you get a handle of the patterns the game becomes incredibly easy. And once it becomes easy it becomes rather boring, as the loop does not offer much verity or challenge in of itself. As a result, Puss tends to end up with a stop-start difficulty curve. The problems are further exasperated by the fact that the boss fights deaths. You have to go through the same batch of levels multiple times. As a result, the imagery loses any sort of spark until it becomes mundane.
Bullet nightmare: Boss fights
(All videos are credited to Temmie Plays!)
I have only fought one boss, according to my research, all the bosses play out in the same way. Just the movements and patterns are different. You dodge projectiles while gaining power (complete with a stock Mario sound effect). Only once you have a full power bar can you attack the boss (amounts to clicking). These are pretty challenging due to the sheer number of different projectiles you have to dodge, and patterns to work out.
None of these are particularly bad and there is a good deal of fun to be had, trying to work out patterns in the heat of the moment. The problem is that the boss fights are rather repetitive; you get the power-up and then abuse your mouse button until the bar runs out. Rinse and repeat for about four times until success or failure. The visuals unfortunately don't paper over what is otherwise a repetitive experience.
The cat has a lives system
Puss has the dreaded lives system, meaning that if you run out of lives then you will start the entire world all over again. Now, there is no excuse for a lives system in an already hard game, as it hurts the title as a whole. Be it having to repeat the same levels over and over again, wasting time and cheapening otherwise unique puzzles and visuals. There is not much fun to be had in having to go through the same level that you solved one hour ago, multiple times within the second hour. I do like that you are rewarded with more lives for doing well. It encourages you to learn and become more skillful. However, that sense of pride and accomplishment quickly lost its appeal once you master all the puzzles and just breeze through them. Then it just becomes rather dull.
Art style and graphics:
Normally this part would only be a single paragraph, but in this case, I cannot do that. The art style is too important to be brushed aside; it is after all the reason for me deciding to stop playing Puss.
What I respect
Despite the overuse of stock assets (or maybe even because of them), Puss is one of the most visually unique games I have ever played. I don't think the 'Asset Flip' label applies to Puss, I believe it transforms the stock imagery and sound affects enough for it to not apply. The sheer variety of colors and shapes lean into the drug-induced fever dream aesthetic Teamcoil was going for. I do applaud them for their well-realized effort.
It hurts me
Puss was not kidding with that disclaimer, this game is not for the faint-hearted or those prone to photosensitive epilepsy. I do not suffer from the latter but the continual visual stimuli always left me feeling miserable and light-headed. I know what I paid for, but I cannot ignore the fact that I was not having any fun because of the visuals. Once the gameplay loop became repetitive, all that was left was the visuals.
The viscously sharp flashing colors, while utterly unique, are also painful to experience. Coupled with the complete lack of context behind the imagery (the spooky stuff is there but rather weak), I found myself dreading my time with it. It felt like an endurance test as opposed to an enjoyable product. This is not a game for me or I suspect most people. Though I could be wrong, that 405 positive review score says otherwise. But at least for me, I just could not bring myself to continue playing.
I have heard this game is filled with bugs and glitches, but I have never experienced any! Puss's performance is:
I have not finished Puss and I doubt I will. That is not to say the game was too hard, I would have beaten it eventually. But the visuals and audio made me miserable. I will congratulate Teamcoil for what they have achieved and the positive reception. But I cannot stand it. I wish the fans have all the fun they can get with Puss, I will wait for Stray to arrive instead.